For a fun and free date night in Charlottesville, look no further than McCormick Observatory’s public viewing nights every first and third Friday evening. The University of Virginia operates the McCormick Observatory, located on UVA’s campus. The observatory was constructed after a gift from Leander J. McCormick to build one of the largest telescopes in the world. When it was dedicated on April 13, 1885 (Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday), the 26-inch astrometric refractor was the second largest telescope in the world. The telescope was the primary research instrument for the department until the 1960s and was used for astrometry into the 1990s.
Each public night includes observing with all of the telescopes (weather-permitting), audio-visual presentations, museum exhibits, and tours of the Observatory. All faculty, post-docs. and graduate students participate through a rotating schedule. The department hosts these events to provide the public with a chance to observe the stars and planets through the McCormick telescope and to educate the public about the research being done and the history of the observatory.
Through some telescopes set up outside, we enjoyed seeing the Orion Nebula, a hazy cloud of gas and dust where new stars are being born, right under Orion’s belt. Through the massive telescope inside the observatory, we watched a comet traveling through the night sky. There is also a small museum of history and artifacts attached to the observatory with a room dedicated to Q&A by one of UVA’s leading astronomy faculty members.
We really enjoyed our visit to McCormick Observatory and love that the university offers these free public viewing nights year-round. There are so many amazing things to see and learn about our incredible universe!